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Digital Archive International History Declassified

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Korean War Origins, 1945-1950

 This collection of primary source documents sheds light on the question of "who started the Korean War?" For more coverage of the Korean War on the Digital Archive, see the collections: Korean War, 1950-1953; Korean War Armistice; China and the Korean War; and Korean War Biological Warfare Allegations.

  • May 12, 1947

    Telegram from Shtykov to Stalin

    Request to send Soviet specialists to North Korea to aid them. The DPRK especially needs help in the form of engineers to help them build their railroad. Shtykov notes that if the Koreans don’t receive aid from the Soviets, they'll turn to the Americans.

  • July 11, 1948

    Record of Conversation between Kim Gu and Liu Yuwan

    Kim Gu (Kim Koo) and the Chinese Nationalist Minister Liu Yuwan discuss Kim's participation in the South Korean government, his attendance at a conference in Pyongyang, and the possibility of a Russian-led attack on southern Korea.

  • 1949

    Report on the 164th and the 166th Division

    The history and basic information on the 164th and the 166th Divisions of the People's Liberation Army, or the divisions composed mainly of ethnic Koreans.

  • March 05, 1949

    Meeting between Stalin and Kim Il Sung

    Kim Il Sung and Stalin discuss the military and economy in North Korea, Soviet-North Korean relations, and North Korea's relations with other foreign countries.

  • March 11, 1949

    Letter to Stalin from Molotov on Granting North Korea Credit to Purchase Soviet Equipment

    The Soviet Commission on Korea prepared an official agreement between the USSR and DPRK which gives DPRK credit in the USSR to purchase Soviet military equipment and materials.

  • April 20, 1949

    Telegram, Shtemenko and Vasilevsky to Stalin

    A telegram informing Stalin that there has been about 37 violations from the South Koreans over the 38 parallel, and that the Soviet government should advise the North Koreans to take appropriate measures to be ready to respond to more provocative actions from the North Koreans.

  • May 02, 1949

    Telegram from Shtykov on Preparations for an Attack on North Korea

    Soviet Ambassador to North Korea Shtykov reports that South Korean forces were being expanded with US assistance and that the government of President Syngman Rhee was taking steps to increase the combat readiness of its army.

  • May 18, 1949

    Telegram from the leader of the group of Soviet specialists in Northeast China to the Chairman of the USSR Council of Ministers about the results of the Chinese-Korean talks on military cooperation

    A telegram from the leader of the group of Soviet specialists in Northeast China to the Chairman of the USSR Council of Ministers about the results of Chinese-Korean talks on military cooperation.

  • May 26, 1949

    Cable, Stalin to Mao Zedong [via Kovalev]

    Stalin gives to Mao (via Kovalev) his, Stalin's, stance on the economic situation in China, and how the Chinese are handling it (the creation of an administrative economic center in China). Stalin also discusses Sino-Soviet relations, and the state of the PLA and how best to use PLA forces.

  • September 03, 1949

    Telegram from Shtykov to Vyshinsky

    Kim Il Sung, having recieved intelligence suggesting South Korea intended to seize the Ongjin Peninsula, requests Soviet permission to move further into South Korea.

  • September 11, 1949

    Telegram from Gromyko to Tunkin at the Soviet Embassy in Pyongyang

    The Soviet Union sends a set of questions to Kim Il Sung on about the South Korean army and North Korea's war plans.

  • September 14, 1949

    Telegram from Tunkin to the Soviet Foreign Ministry in Reply to 11 September Telegram

    North Korea plans to attack South Korea, but the Soviet Foreign Ministry is skeptical about North Korea's actual military capabilities and generally disproves of North Korea's plans.

  • September 15, 1949

    Telegram from Shtykov to Stalin

    A description of the political and economic situation in South and North Korea, and on the presence of the struggling democratic and reactionary forces and their influence among the people. Attached are three appendices on the combat and strength of the South Korean and the People's Army of North Korea, the amount of weapons in the People's Army, and the amount of ammunition in the People's Army as of August 1, 1949.

  • September 24, 1949

    Politburo Decision to Confirm the Following Directive to the Soviet Ambassador in Korea

    The Soviet Politburo argues that North Korea is not ready to launch a successful overthrow of the South Korean regime and suggests North Korea should concentrate its efforts on developing partisan groups in South Korea.

  • September 30, 1949

    Letter, from Syngman Rhee to Dr. Robert T. Oliver [Soviet Translation]

    Letter from Syngman Rhee translated into Russian. The original was likely found when the Communists seized Seoul. Syngman Rhee urges Oliver to come to South Korea to help develop the nation independent of foreign invaders and restore order to his country.

  • October 03, 1949

    Cable, from Stalin to the Soviet Ambassador in Beijing

    Stalin asks the ambassador to find the Minister of Foreign Affairs in Beijing and tell him that they agree with the DPRK's thinking on the feasibility of establishing diplomatic relations between the Democratic People's Republic of Korea and the People's Republic of China.

  • October 26, 1949

    Draft Reply to Mao Zedong's Telegram from Stalin via Molotov

    Stalin agrees with Mao Zedong that North Korea is not yet ready to launch an assault, and reports that the Soviet Union has told North Korea to concentrate on developing liberated areas and guerrillas in South Korea.

  • December 29, 1949

    Telegram to Mao Zedong from Nie Rongzhen concerning the Repatriation of Ethnic Korean Soldiers to North Korea

    Lin Biao and others ask for instructions on whether to send ethnic Korean officers and soldiers to North Korea.

  • January 11, 1950

    Cable, Central Military Commission to Lin Biao, Deng Zihui, Tan Zhen, Xiao Ke, and Zhao Erlu

    To the question of whether to send back the ethnic Korean officers back to Korea, the Central Military Commission answers in the affirmative and writes that CMC has already asked for Korean officers to come to China to reorganize the troops and bring them back home.

  • January 11, 1950

    The Military Commission Agrees to Allow the 4th Field Army's Ethnic Korean Officers and Soldiers Repatriate to Korea

    China asked three representatives from DPRK to prepare to receive the ethnic Korean troops.